“You only have one stroke”: how film cameras won over a younger generation

Indi Shields first discovered film in the drawer of her childhood home. “The first movie camera I took was my great-great-great-grandfather,” she says. “It felt so special to hold it and use it the same way he used to. Even though I never got to see him. ”

While Shields already took analog photographs before the pandemic began, the way she used it during locks changed. When the camera would once only come out at big events like birthday parties, she found herself skimping on “everyday things like my friend watching TV on the couch or the tunnel I walk through to get to the train – just because these are cute little ones” moments I want to look back on or remember in five or ten years. ”

This also gave surprises, at a time when there were not many to pick up. “During the lockdown, it was a happy thing I had to send my film to get it developed. It was something to look forward to when there was nothing else, even though I had no idea what I had taken because I had not done something, she says.

Indi Shields in Newtown, Sydney
The latest film photography enthusiast Indi Shields in Newtown, Sydney. Photo: Blake Sharp-Wiggins / The Guardian

With the lockdown life behind him, Shields has become a regular at Sydney Super8, one of the city’s pillars in modern photographic film.

Owner Nick Vlahadamis, who specializes in vintage cameras, film accessories and film processing, has seen how young people have used their lenses to turn back time. “In the last two years, film sales have increased 20 times and the processing has quadrupled,” he says.

“We opened in 2013 and sold old cameras as ornaments. As more and more people wanted film cameras that worked, we quickly took up the dead thing.

“Around 2015, we developed around 100 reels [of film] one week.”

Although Vlahadamis is adamant that film is not as popular as it was in the 90s, he says the trend will not go away soon.

He points to the revival of Kodak, as an example. While Kodak filed for bankruptcy in 2012, the film giant ended 2020 with a cash prize of $ 196 million – a huge figure for a company that has retreated to relevance by riding a wave of nostalgia. “Something global is happening with film,” says Vlahadmis.

Sydney Super8 owner Nick Vlahadamis
Sydney Super8 owner Nick Vlahadamis says film sales have increased 20 times in the last two years. Photo: Blake Sharp-Wiggins / The Guardian
Customers outside the Sydney Super8
Customers outside the Sydney Super8 Photo: Blake Sharp-Wiggins / The Guardian

The Kodak figure makes sense given the rising prices of movie accessories. Riana Jayaraj says she bought her used Olympus Stylus point-and-shoot for $ 30 a few years ago, and today it sells online for an average of ten times that price.

For Melbourne-based Jayaraj, her love of film is more than just a new pandemic world trend. The 25-year-old fell for the vintage technique about five years ago, and now she carries the camera with her to important events. It’s her way of enjoying the moment.

“I’m taking it out for [events] like my girlfriend’s wedding. I do not take it everywhere, but if something is going on I do it because then I can enjoy the experience.

“It helps me capture little things along the way that I can look back on later, rather than worrying about taking pictures on my phone.”

The lack of immediate feedback is important to Jayaraj. “When you take photos on your phone, it’s almost like you’re disconnected from what you’re actually doing – when you’re standing there and hammering on the camera button, you can kind of manipulate the scene or the situation you’re in if… you can keep taking it again until you are happy with it. ”

“With film, you only have one picture – you take it and just hope it’s good. Because you do not continue to take 50 million of them because you only have 35 shots on the reel and it costs money to get it developed. ”

Jayaraj is not the only Gen Z member to use film as an antidote to digital fatigue. Since she found the film, she has seen it increase in popularity within her own circle of friends.

“I feel like everyone is using film now. Even some of my friends have Instagram for their film images,” she says.

Vlahadamis explains a movie camera to a customer
Vlahadamis explains a movie camera to a customer. Photo: Blake Sharp-Wiggins / The Guardian
Chris Tiffany, co-owner of Sydney Super8
Chris Tiffany, co-owner of Sydney Super8. Photo: Blake Sharp-Wiggins / The Guardian

Disposable cameras are also being introduced into the new age, as brands such as 35mm Co link primitive technology with the millennial dedication to sustainability.

Reloader is a modern reusable version of the disposable film camera, created by Madi Stefanis, a 21-year-old student from Melbourne. After selling used movie cameras online and watching them fly off her digital shelves, she delved into product design.

“I wanted to launch a product that was suitable for all ages and skill levels, and reduced the need for disposable film cameras,” she said.

Since the launch of The Reloader, over 11,000 of them have been sold. Stefanis states that most of her customer base are women and young people (in the age group 18 to 34 years).

But why browse through physical copies of grainy memories when we can capture the moment with a 12-megapixel wide-angle lens?

Film cameras for sale at Sydney Super8
Film cameras for sale at Sydney Super8. Photo: Blake Sharp-Wiggins / The Guardian

For Shields, it is the comfort of “staying present” and an uncertain result, which for her “feels like magic” – unlike when she uses her phone.

“I actually have no idea where my digital camera is, it’s probably under my bed covered in dust and mold. But my movie cameras are on my mantelpiece, and they’re the first thing you see when you go into my bedroom. ”

“I feel so much more attracted to film because it’s so much more exciting,” she says. “There is an element of surprise, ignorance and creativity.”

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